With the NCAA tournament brackets now announced, everyone immediately scrambles to pick their winners and be as accurate as possible. The best advice at this stage is to not overthink anything.
It is always exciting to pick a big upset so that when it happens you can brag to your friends that you were right. On the other hand, all you are doing is giving yourself a lower probability of nailing your picks.
Obviously, not every top seed will advance. That is what makes March Madness so much fun to watch and follow over the course of three weeks. However, there are a few teams who will easily advance beyond the first weekend and into the Sweet 16.
If you do not have these squads at least through their first two games, you are doing something wrong.
This has been the most complete team in the country throughout the season, and there is no reason to expect anything different in the NCAA tournament.
Florida became the first team ever to go 18-0 in the SEC, thanks to a balanced attack with four players averaging double figures and arguably the best bench in the country. The depth can be seen with ESPN's disagreement for conference player of the year, all naming Gators:
SEC Conference POY: Digger - Patric Young Jalen - Casey Prather Bilas - Scottie Wilbekin— ESPN College BBall (@ESPNCBB) March 1, 2014
Scottie Wilbekin ended up winning the award, telling Kevin Brockway of The Gainesville Sun, "I think it's a reflection of how good this team is and how good we played during the regular season, to see this many of us get awards."
Of course, this does not take away from the season of leading scorer Casey Prather or big man Patric Young. Along with Will Yeguete, the four seniors make up the most experienced squad in the country that will try to get to the Final Four after three years of losing in the Elite Eight.
If these players somehow struggle, Dorian Finney-Smith and Kasey Hill can come off the bench and contribute at a high level. There simply seems to be no way to slow this group down, and no one will be able to come close until at least the third or fourth game in this tournament.
You need a good defense to win a national championship. Arizona has that with the top-ranked defensive efficiency in the nation, according to KenPom.com.
Since Ken Pomeroy started publishing ratings in 2003, the eventual national champion has finished with a defensive ranking of at least 21. In six of the 11 years, the winner was ranked in the top 10.
Nick Johnson and T.J. McConnell play an aggressive style of defense in the backcourt, forcing an average of three steals combined per game. They can do this because Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Kaleb Tarczewski are behind them blocking and altering shots with their size and athleticism.
Offensively, it all runs through McConnell, who has been the ideal point guard since transferring from Duquesne. His coach Sean Miller discussed the junior's role with the team, via Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated:
Part of being a Glue Guy isn't necessarily what you do on game day. It's what you do every day. T.J. is consumed with winning. He embodies all the qualities you would want in a walk-on, in a sixth man, and especially your top players. We've won a lot of games this season because of our chemistry and our leadership. T.J. has given us both of those things.
Adding his play with the overall ability of Johnson and the inside scoring of Gordon and Tarczewski, this squad is tough to stop. The Wildcats appeared to be in trouble when Brandon Ashley got hurt earlier in the season, but this is clearly no longer an issue as they fight for a national title.
Although Louisville has a harder path to the Sweet 16 than the other teams on this list, there is no reason to doubt the squad's ability. The defending champions are playing as well as anyone in the country at the moment and have all the tools necessary to make another run to the Final Four.
The main reason is Russ Smith, who has become a more efficient player this season, as noted by Bleacher Report's Adam Lefkoe:
Louisville's Russ Smith had a mission in 2014: Improve from 3 and pass. 3PT: From 33% to 39% Assists: From 116 to 148 (326 LESS Minutes)— Adam Lefkoe (@AdamLefkoe) March 10, 2014
That being said, he still has the ability to make big plays when needed, like his game-winning shot to beat Cincinnati this season:
Smith also scored 134 points in six games last March to lead the Cardinals to the championship. Adding a low-post presence in Montrezl Harrell—who more than doubled his production from last year—will make this team tough to beat.
With Louisville's ability to press and create turnovers, this team can turn tough matchups into easy victories in the first few rounds.
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